Rob and Cyndy Shearer
Shearer Family Business - Greenleaf Press
This story has two threads. One thread is the story of Yang Bao (aka Corrie YangBao Shearer) and how she came to be cared for at the HengYang Welfare Institute (and by a foster-mom or "auntie"). The other story is that of her adoptive parents and family - the Shearer's - who followed God's leading and plan in welcoming her into their family. Unfortunately, I know only a few of the details of Corrie's side of the story, so most of this will be about our experiences.
Yang Bao was found where someone (presumably her mother) had left her - at the gates to HengYang City, on April 10th. She was found by a patrol of civil affairs officers - something like traffic police - sometime during their rounds, probably early in the morning. They took her to the HengYang Welfare Institute where she was placed in the orphanage. At some later point she was placed in the care of a foster mom, along with another baby from the orphanage, Yang Jiao (Emily Smyth). When her foster-mom brought both Corrie and Emily to our group in Changsha, she told us that she had nicknamed them Bao-Bao (sweetheart) and Pon-Pon (chubby cheeks). Corrie's mother probably took great risks to carry her to term and to preserve her life. Yang Bao was left - again almost certainly deliberately - in a place where her mother knew she would be found and cared for. Her birth certificate lists her birth date as March 21st, 1996.
Before Corrie was even born though, God had already begun to prepare a place for her in the hearts and home of the Shearer's. In the summer of 1995, Cyndy saw a report on TV (almost by accident? - not!) about the plight of abandoned babies in the orphanages in China. Cyndy told Rob about it and they both prayed and together felt led by God to adopt a baby girl from China. All of this occurred not long after Corrie was conceived, but before she had been born.
Cyndy has elsewhere written about the miraculous story of how God matched us with an adoption agency and a social worker. We both felt a great urgency to complete our application and send it to China as soon as possible. After a frantic month spent collecting documents and doing a home study, everything was finally ready and sent off to our agency in St. Louis in November of 1995 and then, after we had finally received our approval from INS, on to Beijing. And then began the wait. We had been told to expect a wait of about 3 months. We waited . . . and waited. Meanwhile, in Beijing, the government agencies and departments who had been handling the three-year-old international adoption program were going through a major re-organization. When the dust settled, our dossier was sitting in the wrong place. Though our agency had worked successfully with the Ministry of Justice for two years, the Ministry no longer had direct responsibility for adoptions. Late in the summer of 1996, our dossier was finally transferred to the new Chinese Committee on Adoption. Then we began to hear reports of a change in policy concerning adoptive families who already had children. The Chinese adoption law had always stated that only childless couples over 35 could adopt healthy infants. We had been prepared to adopt a child with "medical needs." In practice, over a several year period, the "medical needs" had almost always been relatively minor. Now, the word from China was that the new committee would no longer consider "minor" health problems as medical needs. And, in fact, our agency advised us that they now believed it would be very difficult for us to be approved by the Chinese Committee on Adoption to adopt at all, because of our other children. We had seven children when we initially applied to adopt. Just as we sent our application in to adopt, we learned that Cyndy was pregnant. While we waited for word from Beijing, our eighth child, Emily Joy was born in August of 1996.20
Cyndy and I were both convinced that God had specifically directed us to adopt a baby girl from China. The rule changes and conflicting information coming out of China were very confusing. Our agency was very supportive. They tried to be realistic and accurate in conveying the situation to us, but they left the final decision of whether to continue to wait or to withdraw our application up to us. At one point, our social worker called and told us that there were children waiting who could be immediately adopted in their program in Russia. Cyndy and I spent a turbulent morning praying. God very clearly spoke to me with the words, "Wait and see what I will do." The internet email list for parents waiting to adopt from China was full of messages warning of a slowdown, then a complete shutdown of "special needs" adoptions. We continued to wait. Through September, then October, then November and December. After many months of waiting... and waiting... and waiting... on December 31st, 1996 we got a phone call from the asst. director of our agency. We had received approval from the Chinese Committee on Adoption and should be ready to travel to China on January 19th. Our adoption agency was as flabbergasted as we were! But we all rejoiced in God's sovereignty.
We had just a short time to prepare to travel and I (Rob) struggled with the travel arrangements. Cyndy couldn't come with me - she couldn't leave 5 month old Joy (our youngest daughter, born after we had applied to adopt from China) behind for two weeks. I at first thought of traveling alone. Then, after prayer, I felt strongly led to take our oldest daughter, Micah (13) with me. One of my sisters, one of Cyndy's sisters, and even several good friends at church had all offered to accompany me (very sweet and selfless offers these were), but I began to feel more and more strongly that God wanted me to take Micah. At first we thought this might be difficult. We had heard stories that agencies had discouraged parents from taking other children with them. I called Dwyatt, the director of our agency, and explained the situation to him, and his immediate response was that taking Micah with me sounded like an excellent idea. Over the next ten days, we applied for and received Micah's passport and Chinese Visa and on Sunday, January 19th, at 8:00am we were off. Taking Micah with me proved to be one of the best decisions I ever made. I see daily evidence of the strong bond between Micah and her little sister. Though either my sister or sister-in-law would have made a wonderful traveling companion, I think it would have been hard on Corrie to spend 10 days getting to know and be cared for by one of her Aunts, and then to have to say goodbye to her when we returned to the USA.
Cyndy spent the intervening two weeks packing for us, and we were well prepared for our journey. The flights on Sunday were long, boring, and tiring. We flew from Nashville to Chicago where we spotted first 1, then 2, finally 4 other families wearing buttons from "China's Children." From Chicago, we had a 16 hour flight to Tokyo. Then after a brief layover, we boarded a 4 hour flight to Beijing. We arrived in Beijing at 9:00pm local time, Monday evening. It was 7:00am Monday morning in Nashville and we had been traveling for almost exactly 24 hours. We were met by our adoption co-ordinator from China's Children, Flora and by our local travel guide, Mr. Lee and taken by charter bus to our 4-star hotel. First surprise - along with a Chinese version of MTV called "V channel," we also got CNN in English on the TV in the hotel room.
We had no trouble sleeping that night and next morning we assembled for a day's sightseeing in Beijing. This built-in one-day delay was in case any of our group had been delayed by weather in the states and also to let us get somewhat adjusted to China. We spent the day touring a cloisonne pottery factory, the Ming tombs, the Great Wall, and a pearl factory. After our day of sightseeing, Mr. Lee announced to everyone on the bus that - contrary to the schedules that had been mailed to us - we would be meeting with the Registrar in Changsha the next day, almost as soon as we got off the plane, and then we would be receiving our adopted daughters that next afternoon. There were gasps, squeals, and not a few tears from the families on the bus. Micah and I smiled quietly at each other. I don't know what she was feeling, but I was a complex mixture of excitement, fear, apprehension, joy, and terror. What if we there were some last minute hitch? What if Micah's presence advertised our other children too blatantly? What if Corrie didn't like us?
At one of the stops, I approached Mr. Lee and told him I'd be willing to miss supper if we could arrange a brief, early evening visit to Tianamen Square. He agreed and suggested we chip in an extra $5/person for gas "for the driver" and after dropping off a few of the families who were worn out, we made an early evening drive to downtown Beijing and parked the bus on the edge of Tianamen Square. It was bitterly cold, and dark. Our pictures didn‘t turn out. But we did get to see the massive government buildings (and Mao's mausoleum) that line the square and the site of the students' demonstrations in favor of democracy in the summer of 1989. In front of the Museum of the Revolution on the East side of the Square there was an illuminated clock counting down the hours, minutes, and seconds until Hong Kong returns to Chinese rule.
The next morning, Wednesday, January 22nd, we left early for the airport and flew 1000 miles to the south, to Changsha, the capital of Hunan province. After the flight landed, still accompanied by Flora (who is a beautiful, soft-spoken, delicate 25 year-old Chinese lady), we met our local guide Ma Chi Yen, know to us for the next six days as Mark. He gave us the outline for the afternoon's events - telling us that we would have an hour or so at the hotel before we needed to re-board the bus to go to the Registrar in order to complete our Certificate of Eligibility to Adopt. After that, we would return to the hotel, the babies would be brought to us, and the Notary would visit in order to register our Adoption Decree and the adoption would be final.
The trip to the Registrar was an ordeal. We met him at a temporary office at another hotel in Changsha. My stomach was turning flip-flops. Micah stayed behind in the room at our hotel. The first two couples were taken to meet the Registrar. The rest of us were told to wait in the coffee shop off the lobby. While we waited, we began to fill out our paperwork (the questions were all in Chinese). The first question was "Why do you want to adopt a baby girl from China?" I had no problem with this one, but some of the other parents found it agonizing. My agonizing question was a later one. One of the last questions was "number of other children and ages." Flora was helping us to fill out the forms and when we got to this question, she looked at me and told me to leave it blank. She would find out what I should fill in and get back to me. My stomach went nuts. The first two couples had already been ushered into the room with the Registrar. Flora hurried off and then came back. I looked at her. She said "Wait, I'll tell you what to put down." She hurried off again. At that point, I confessed to the other families waiting with me my dilemma, "I have 7 children already." Mouths dropped open, but then they were all very supportive, complimentary, soothing, etc. Turns out each of us was "special needs," most already had one or more children - but none 7. Flora finally came back again. "Its OK, they already know about your family. Put down 7 and fill in the ages. The Registrar is a good man." I began to breathe again. I happened to have a Greenleaf catalog with a picture of the 9 of us at the barn. I showed it to Flora and asked, "Should I offer to show the picture to the Registrar." She paused for a moment and then said, "Yes, I think so..."
When my turn came to be interviewed by the Registrar, I was paired with the only other dad traveling without his wife, Tom Gorecki. We sat down together at a small table across from the Registrar. He asked in perfect English for copies of our power of attorney and whether we had any questions. Then he had us sign the form and then affixed his seal to our Certificate of Approval to Adopt. I showed him the picture of the Shearer's and he asked if I would make a copy for the files in Changsha. He added, "We made some history here today, I'd like to have a copy of the picture for the records."
And then, we were on our way back to the hotel. Micah and I had carefully unpacked all of our supplies (we were going to be in Changsha for 6 nights) and tried to fix the room up in anticipation of sharing it with Corrie. There were bottles and formula, baby clothes, diapers, emergency medical supplies, and a crib by the window - a very strange metal crib supplied by the hotel which had big rocking chair style curved supports so that the crib could be rocked from side to side. And then we waited. Half our group was on the 17th floor, half our group was on the 19th. About 5:30 the phone rang. It was Flora telling us to come to the 17th floor. Micah and I ran to the elevators. We bumped into Candy (and her cousin Vicky). Candy was close to tears. I hugged her and told her everything would be fine. The elevators were taking forever. And then, I began to hear babies crying... from the stairwell. Candy and I looked and each other and both broke for the stairwell at the same time. Down two flights of stairs and into pandemonium. Officials from the orphanage, adoptive parents, and babies - most everyone crying. Micah had both the video camera and our disposable Kodak for stills. I still haven't seen the video. Its hard to even write about. The first thing I saw was one of the other dad's (Dean and his wife, Becky) almost distraught, crying, holding a baby girl (Emily) in a yellow quilted jacket and pants snowsuit. He later told me that months before he had had a dream of seeing his daughter brought to him wrapped in a yellow blanket. Corrie was dressed in a matching quilted snowsuit, but hers was pink. I have vague memories of her being given to me and then of her screaming. Her foster-mom took her back briefly. And then, I was holding her again. Then her foster mom took both her and Emily and held them both and someone explained to me that she wanted us to know that they had been together. Then, I had Corrie and was taking her up the stairs and to our room.
She was crying hysterically and looking around (somewhat frantically) for a familiar face. Clearly, Micah and I were not familiar! She quieted only briefly, then would start up again. Her cheeks were red and we decided we should change her into an outfit that would be cooler and more comfortable. She had on at least 8 or 9 layers of clothes. Underneath... she was perfect. Some small signs of prickly heat rash and maybe a few blemishes, but perfect. And still screaming. We dressed her in one of the outfits we had brought from home. It was rapidly clear that the smaller outfits we had brought would be too small.
After a short time, the Notary and her assistant came by and brought our adoption decree to be completed. I noticed that my name was misspelled and with some help from Flora, this was corrected (It is still misspelled on the documents from the Registrar!). Then the orphanage director and the foster-mom paid us a visit in our room. She quickly diagnosed at least part of Corrie's problem as hunger. We made up a bottle and she fed Corrie. I asked how often she ate (5-6 bottles a day), when she went to bed? (7:00 at night) whether she slept through the night? (no, a bottle at 2:00am and another at 6:00am followed by playtime!). Micah has most of this on video. The foster-mother continued to feed Corrie and I began to be concerned that this was postponing her bonding to us... that we needed to feed her in order to help her get used to us. I asked if I could finish feeding her. The foster mother looked at me, and with only a small, reluctant, hesitation, handed Corrie and the bottle to me.
Somehow we got through the rest of that night. I think Micah and I took turns feeding Corrie. She began to trust us... or at least associate us with food. Sometime during the night it started snowing... and by the next morning, Changsha had 3" of snow on the ground. Our pre-paid arrangements included an American breakfast in the hotel restaurant ("John's Cafe" - decorated with pictures of John Glenn, JFK, and inexplicably, Fidel Castro and Che Gueverra). At breakfast that morning, all 17 Americans and 9 adopted daughters had a reserved table prominently up front. It was a small celebration and sharing of stories.
From Thursday through Tuesday, we were waiting for the Provincial Security office to issue passports and exit visas for the babies. Nothing for us to do but wait. We did some shopping and some local sight-seeing jaunts in our bus with Mark. For the first two days Corrie screamed when I tried to hold her. Micah was OK, but apparently, I was scary. On the 3rd day, she started to let me hold her and began to be more relaxed, to smile and even giggle. By the time we left Changsha she had apparently decided that we were going to stick around and would let other people hold her... as long as either Micah or I were around within eyesight.
Every morning, the group of nine families would meet for breakfast in John‘s cafe on the ground floor of the hotel. A surprisingly good, American-style buffet breakfast was included in our pre-paid travel arrangements. But by the third day it was getting monotonous. That morning, one of the dad's looked around the table and announced, "Somebody please pay the ransom!"
While we waited, we made several exploratory strolls on foot in the area immediately around our hotel in downtown Changsha (and later, one daring taxi ride). There were several department stores and shops and one bookstore that I visited at least twice. On every trip out of the hotel someone in our group was inevitably accosted by the "clothes police." Women (especially older women) were drawn to the babies and would check the temperature of their face and hands and try to ascertain how many layers of clothes they were wearing. Apparently the measure of one's child-rearing skills and devotion are measured by how many layers of clothes the child has on. One woman, shocked to discover that Corrie had on only a zip-up flannel sleeper (she had rolled up one of Corrie's sleeves to check) proceeded to roll up the cuff of her own sleeve to demonstrate for me that she was wearing 4+ layers of clothes. Never mind that Corrie was warm and comfortable... We all learned to take it with good humor. And the women seemed genuinely concerned and caring - not critical & accusing. Though in any group outing, inevitably the cry would ring out - "You've been busted - clothes police!"
Over the weekend in Changsha, on Sunday, I organized a brief worship service for our group of adoptive parents. Our local guide agreed to start the sightseeing jaunt on Sunday an hour later (11:00am) than he had on other days. Tom offered his room as a meeting place. At breakfast on Sunday, I invited Mark to join us, but he declined, saying "No, I am not the Christian." Over half the group attended and we had a wonderful time. We sang several hymns, shared, read a few verses, prayed together and closed by singing "Amazing Grace."
On Tuesday afternoon, after one final morning of sightseeing, we checked out of our hotel in Changsha. Late in the afternoon, Flora picked up our babies‘ passports and brought them to us. We had a final meal together in John's Cafe. In the evening we flew to Guangzhou and checked in late (after 11:00pm) at the White Swan Hotel - a five star luxury hotel on Shamien Island overlooking the Pearl River. Guangzhou is one of south China's largest cities (6 million) just about 100 km upriver from Hong Kong. On Wednesday morning, we met Flora early in the lobby and walked across the street to get photos of our babies (for their US Visa applications). Then we walked to the other end of the island (about 4-5 blocks) for physical checkups (required by INS and the US Consulate). The physicals were done in the People's Republic Clinic for Foreigners and were relatively routine. No bloodwork, just a fairly perfunctory inspection of eyes, ears, nose, throat and external systems. Corrie was passed through and her physical health indicated as excellent. The afternoon was spent shopping and I began making lists of gifts and people and getting a bit more organized about things. We were more tired than we thought and canceled our plans for the night cruise of Guangzhou harbor.
Thursday we had our interview at the American Consulate. We all assembled to meet Flora again in the lobby at 9:00am. Then we walked one block up the street to the American Consulate. After about 20 minutes wait, we each had a brief, painless interview with a foreign service officer. She comes from a family of 7, so she was easy-going about our application. There was a brief moment of panic when I could not find the pictures of Corrie that Flora had given to me at the health clinic the day before. We were prepared to make another quick jaunt to the photoshop, when I found them in the passport pouch around my neck. The Consular officer asked to see my power of attorney from Cyndy and then said, "Fine, your visa will be ready tomorrow afternoon." Phew... we now had everything we needed to head home. The next afternoon we flew a China Air 747 from Guangzhou to Beijing. We got to our hotel after 11:00pm, with a 7:00 wake-up call for a trip to the airport the next morning. Saturday, February 1st, we flew from Beijing to Tokyo, landing about 3:30 in the afternoon. Then just as the sun went down, we took off on a non-stop flight to San Francisco. The flight back over the Pacific was in darkness until just before we touched down in San Francisco - 8:00am - still Saturday morning!!! Because we crossed the International Date Line, we had seen the sun rise in Beijing and then saw it rise again the same day in San Francisco.
Clearing customs in San Francisco was a breeze. Each of the families surrendered their sealed packet to the INS officials and the baby's Chinese passport was stamped with a US Visa giving them permission for permanent residence. Later this year, we'll have Corrie naturalized as a US citizen.
After we cleared US Customs, I tried to call home, but in the confusion of moving our business, our home phone had been accidentally and temporarily disconnected. We caught our connecting flight from San Francisco to Chicago. We landed in Chicago about 4:00pm and really crashed hard. Micah and I put Corrie on one of our coats, spread on the floor between two rows of seats in the waiting area at our gate. I think we both went to sleep thereafter and Corrie was content to play. Finally they called our flight to Grand Rapids and after our fourth and final flight (26 hours after departing Beijing), we were joyously reunited with Cyndy and Joy (our youngest daughter - now 6 months old) at about 9:00pm along with 15-20 wonderful folks who had come to greet us. Cyndy had been the featured speaker at a home school conference in Michigan. I had originally been scheduled to speak along with her, but the trip to pick up Corrie took precedence. Sunday morning was a blur, but several families came to help us get to the airport. We flew home to Nashville and arrived to another tumultuous welcome about 12:45pm followed by a 20 minute ride to our hometown of Lebanon and a meal at our favorite restaurant, Meacham's Italian Cafe. Home, finally. And now we have nine children. And Corrie has adopted us just as much as we have adopted her. God selected her for us and entrusted her to us every bit as much as he has selected and entrusted to us each of our 9 children - 3 sons and 6 daughters - and each one a special blessing to us from God.
Rob and Cyndy Shearer
Shearer Family Business - Greenleaf Press
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